LONDON // Prime minister David Cameron on Wednesday described as “totally unacceptable” the chaotic scenes of migrants attempting to enter Britain illegally by hiding in trucks at the French seaport of Calais.
Television footage on Tuesday showed large crowds of migrants trying to board queuing lorries after traffic was halted through the Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France due to disruption by striking French ferry workers.
Mr Cameron said his government was considering reinforcing Britain’s border with France around the port of Calais.
“We have been looking at whether we can put more personnel and indeed sniffer dog teams on that side of the channel to make a difference,” Mr Cameron told parliament on Wednesday.
The mayor of Calais has criticised the British government for not doing enough to fund security in the port, saying Britain needs to overhaul its generous welfare system and improve identity controls she says make it a magnet for illegal immigrants.
There are around 3,000 migrants camped out in Calais attempting to cross the Channel – a presence that is causing friction between Britain and France.
Britain’s interior minister Theresa May said the majority of the migrants arrived on European shores in Italy, having been trafficked across the Mediterranean Sea from north Africa.
“It is totally unacceptable scenes that we’ve all been witnessing,” Mr Cameron said.
“Of course we want to see migrants better documented and fingerprinted but frankly a lot of that needs to happen in Italy, where they land, rather than in France.”
He said Britain would take action to improve security in Calais and work with other European countries.
“We’ve got to do more to make sure that Britain is a less easy place for illegal migrants to come to and work in,” he said.
Mr Cameron said Britain had already invested £12 million (Dh69m) on bolstering the border and was happy to do more if needed. There was no point in France or Britain “trying to point the finger of blame at each other”, he said, as it was more important to maintain a strong partnership.
Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-mass immigration UK Independence Party, said: “This will only get worse as huge numbers of people continue to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in response to a clear EU message that nobody will be sent back.
“The UK has become the number one destination of choice due to the size of our employment black market and the failure to deport 75 per cent of caught illegal immigrants.”
He said Mr Cameron’s words on Wednesday “will not deter a single illegal immigrant from trying to break into a car or a lorry.”
Britain will increase its screening measures in Dover on both freight and tourist vehicles, while sniffer dogs have been deployed at the border check in northeast France.
London will also create a task force of 90 people including investigators, border officers and prosecutors to try to disrupt gangs trafficking people hoping to reach Europe.
Members of the task force will be sent to Sicily where many of the migrants first arrive in Europe on boats from Libya, to Europol headquarters in The Hague and to north Africa itself.
Britain has deployed a warship in the Mediterranean to help rescue migrants at sea and bring them to European shores, while its communications spying agency GCHQ is gathering information about trafficking gangs.
* Agence France-Presse and Reuters